The elephant is still in the room: Women leaders in the Caribbean

BY R.D. Miller

A foggy history:

The glass ceiling in the Caribbean may have had a few cracks, but it is still unbroken. This is critical time when political communities are undergoing soul searching regarding who is best to lead them out of violent crime, rampant poverty and a new direction desperately hoping for a brighter future.

These local political communities are repeatedly dominated by men, but women have been essential to their rise; whether as an educator, nurse, police officers, or as a wife who holds the family together.

In the past decades, more women have emerged from the shadow and ran for higher offices, but numerous have also failed. It is not their qualifications that were in question, nor dedication to public service, but it is perhaps, “being a woman.”

From the archived of hope:

Since the late Eugenia Charles, the first female prime minister of Dominica, July 21, 1980, – June 14, 1995, no other to date in Dominica. Today, it seems to select women leaders is like a ‘beauty pageant contest.’ Their appearance is more important than experience or economic policies.

The Hon. Eugenia Charles: Prime minister of Dominica, July 21, 1980, – June 14, 1995,

The Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller: Priminister of Jamaica; March 2006 – September 2007 and again January 2012 – March 2016

The Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar Prime Minister: Trinidad and Tobago, May 2010 – September 2015.

Other than the late Eugenia Charles, Portia Simpson and Kamla Persad were defeated in their re-election bid. It created more critical examinations of how they lost and not their political accomplishments. They were too opinionated, failed to connect with a changing demographic; disconnect with the working class, downtrodden, but seldom people talk about hidden sexism, misogynistic views, low voters’ participation, and parliamentary grip where some members not accepting their leadership.

It is not time to go on an apology tour because if official titles are now “former” for women leadership in the region, and that cannot become a comfort zone. Despite these cracks in the ceiling, it has not promoted an easy passage for others. I believe that the region needs more women leaders to convey even a day of empathy.

Furthermore, not every woman frequently agrees on the same norms, personal virtue, or values from personal experience, but socio-economic equality, upward mobility , gender equity though subjective, requires creative collaboration.

However, there is hope. Prime minister Mottley, twice the elected leader of the political opposition before her landslide victory in 2018, is considered one of the regions’ brightest independent thinkers. She recently encouraged more moral leadership, and critical collaboration, especially since COVID-19 for better medical systems and care across the region.

The Hon. Mia Amor Mottley: Prime Minister of Barbados

The elephant in the room:

Recently, I began to analyze a debate regarding Lisa Hanna, former Ms. World 1993, and member of parliament (Jamaica) whose physical beauty gets more attention than her policies.

Will she ascend to the top of the Peoples National Party (PNP) from Dr. Peter Phillips, member of parliament and opposition leader? This remains a crossroad, as to the changing of the guards. The honorable Dr. Phillips, who holds the power, will he yield to her or another male comrade after decades in government?

Hon. Lisa Hanna: Member of Parliament-Jamaica

Dr. Phillip has been one of the best legislators in Jamaica and has made an excellent contribution to the nation. However, some likely voters may believe his time has come to yield power, as the demographic shifted to a younger group.

But can he instantly change the barriers women often face in politics; support her to effectively utilize her skills and talents to capture the imagination of younger voters or steer this ship into an iceberg?

Based on local reports, she has won her local elections regardless of the party power and several voters believe she may have a better chance to give Jamaican a clear choice regarding the nation’s future, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, stagnated economic issues and high employment, whoever is selected will need a plan to reduce organized crime, attract investments and aggressively reduce the gaps between the haves and have-nots.

Unquestionable, given this complex global economy, a candidate mental and physical fitness to lead a struggling nation forward is a fair question. If Lisa Hanna were to become the leader of the party or elected the next prime minister, would the elephants leave the room for her to lead?

Often, politics in the Caribbean appears to operate as an apprentice at a local mechanical shop. An opportunity to show one’s skills only come when the manager has no choice, or can no longer navigate, then one gets a chance to grow.

Unfortunately, holding on to power create division, disconnect and stalemate of new ideas for advancement, and to create a pathway for the next women leaders.

Clearly, this is not a harsh indictment on one political side. Numerous elected leaders will typically use appointed positions to declare earnestly that they are inclusive. But other than political titles, her voice only can be heard after the meeting, as deliberate exploitation equally comes in all forms even at the top.

Sure, some will push back forcefully to give the impression as it is a day at church, and I get it, they are all politicians, and I am not in the room. The parliamentary system throughout the region, it seems for these potential women leaders to rise to the top, she has to gain the approval of the males in the structure.

A delicate balance:

People are led to genuinely believe, “democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people,” but it is simply an oligarchy system where elected leaders get to select who they think the public will accept from an emotional connection on both sides to provide them with increased grip on personal power disguised as working for the community.

Leadership is also the ability to create a sense of calm, and recognize that being a passenger one can use the experience of a road traveled for years to offer better direction rather than trying to drive when one must make frequent stops to attend personal needs.

Every vote has consequences, but losing an election does not mean upward mobility for Caribbean women is lifeless. Appointing more women in political power is critical; especially for adolescent girls to have a role model, create better education, healthcare and safety.

This requires mobilization through common threads, where more women overwhelmingly supporting each regardless of political sides because after the dust settles, her policy and action may be key to a student success or failure.

In a recent report by Leta Hong Fincher for CNN, she noted that a “United Nation and Inter-Parliamentary Union report highlighted that 10 of 152 elected heads of state were women, and men made up 75 percent of parliamentarians, 73 percent of managerial decision-makers and 76 percent of the people in mainstream news media.”

Given what has been reported, maybe term-limits should be considered where communities across the region must ask themselves; are, they better off years later, feel safer regardless of party affiliation, especially in poor and developing countries plagued with crime and economic stagnation.

General elections should undoubtedly be about the next generation, rigorous debates where voters’ legitimate concerns and interests properly align with their economic future. The gradual rise of populism leadership never works for Caribbean people. It typically leads to what seems to be personal financial gains from elected office; and where faithful messengers are despised, even if the political message enthusiastically promotes a better quality standard of living.

Distributing a-few grocery bags is always good for the poor, but if followed by a camera for a 30-second video to tweet while asking beneficiaries to say thank-you to leaders, borders exploitation. Sure, it offers a temporary fix, what about the next day.  Happy Mothers’ Day to your constituents tweets if great to connect, but should be backed with an economic plan to move these young women out of poverty and crime, and other who may be stuck in an abusive relationship.

Time for a new paradigm shift:

These political doctrines frequently produce bubbles where some with influence, is mentally quarantined in social status-selected groups. If they are aware of the reality and fail to speak up to maintain an alliance, how can, she rise?

The centrality of women’s issues will not change because of an election. A recent academic journal also noted that access to crucial career paths is critical especially for young women. In order to reduce these barriers; leaders must mentor and encourage the new generation to lead.

An election may only come down to, “preserve it the way it is,” silent or deflect from systematic failures whether government corruption, violent crime, and failed policies. Moreover, if local youths’ voices are disconnected from the process that may also hinder potential young women leaders from emerging.

They are coming: According to pew research, about 50 percent of women in the labor force today have a bachelor’s degree, effectively matching the number of college-educated men. Sadly, it does not frequently develop leaders, increased businesses, or a chance to become a role model for the next generation.

I am not a political scholar on women’s political issues, and though more females have become politicians in the region, it seems their masculine counterparts stay in the shadow. They must begin to see women’s challenging issues as one and not those women over there unapologetic to change hurdles in impoverished communities.

I don’t have a electoral vote or endorsing anyone. A political candidate should not lose an election in that she is a woman, nor should he loose because he is running against a lady.

This is not a frantic call that they should quit their elected positions. They are visionary male leaders, past and present, but when she at the political table, it balances critical discussion and decision. And not because you cannot see the elephant, or one is charismatic, does not mean he is not there.

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